The Second World Urban Forum in Barcelona closed on Friday with a clarion call from urban leaders on governments to give local authorities more support saying the challenge of urbanisation is greatest facing humanity in the new millennium. Nowhere said Mr. Nicophore Soglo, Mayor of Contonou, Benin , is the challenge of urbanisation greater than in Africa . In remarks the packed forum convention hall on Barcelona´s newly refurbished waterfront, he said: “The world´s urban population is approaching the characteristics of a time-bomb. We must disarm it immediately.”
Africa´s challenges were double those of elsewhere in the world: “We must never forget that Africa has undergone four centuries of deportation – the slave trade followed by colonization and now we have unviable states, governance problems, conflict and HIV/AIDS. Its world market access is derisory. Decentralization and democracy is only beginning in many countries.” Keynote speakers called for a renewed drive for decentralization, and expressed concern that millions people in cities around the world still lacked access to safe water and sanitation, health care, education, shelter, and security of tenure.
Mr. John Ashe, President of the Commission for Sustainable Development warned that poverty continues to consign millions of people in the developing world to urban slums. “Nowhere is the challenge greater than in the sprawling slums of the developing world,” he said.
The Huairou Commission, representing grassroots women´s organisations around the world, called on UN-HABITAT to convene an expert-group meeting on women´s concerns, and said the Third World Urban Forum in Vancouver should have a “special place” for a women´s caucus. Ms. Esther Mwaura Muiru, of the commission, said governments had to address the issues of the Millennium Development Goals with particular attention to plight of women.
In a fitting conclusion to the Second World Urban Forum, UN-HABITAT´s Execuctive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, signed an historic agreement with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) that will elevate the working relationship between the United Nations system and local governments around the world to a new level.
The agreement is aimed at localising the MDGs to which world leaders committed themselves in the year 2000.
In her closing remarks, Mrs. Tibaijuka thanked the City of Barcelona , the Governments of Sweden, Norway , Austria , Rwanda , the United Kingdom , Thailand , France , Italy and Canada which provided the financial support for this Second Session and the forum chair, Ms. Maria Antonia Trujillo, Minister of Housing of Spain.
“In two short years, the World Urban Forum has established itself as the world's premier urban development platform. The 1,100 people at the inaugural event in Nairobi in 2002 would scarcely have dared believe that more than 4,000 participants would come to Barcelona for a week of networking, discussion and debate,” she said. “We have witnessed intensive debates on city management, finance, housing and infrastructure, sustainability, inclusiveness and urban risk.”
Earlier in the week, UN-HABITAT also beefed up its relationship with the European Union.
For the past three years, UN-HABITAT and the European Commission have been engaged in a process of reinforcing collaboration in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), with specific reference to urban poverty reduction .
At a special event on Wednesday 15 September 2004 the European Commission- Research Directorate and UN-HABITAT launched a joint publication on Creating a World of Sustainable Cities , marking the beginning of a further stage in the ongoing cooperation between UN-HABITAT and the European Union.
Mr Eric Ponthieu, Head of Sector, Directorate General for Research, European Commission (EC) announced the establishment of a common database of research results and a joint EU-UN-HABITAT Conference scheduled in China in the autumn of 2005.
At the closing plenary, Mrs. Tibaijuka accepted Canada´s invitation to host the Third World Urban Forum in Vancouver .